The Scrutiny and Overview Committee is asked to:-
2. Considered whether there are any areas of in need of further scrutiny that should be scheduled for later in the year by either the Committee or one of its Sub-Committees.
The Committee considered a report which provided an update on financial performance and the delivery of the Council’s budget at the end of June 2021 (month 3). This report had previous been reviewed by the Cabinet at its meeting on 16 August 2021. It had been provided to Committee to ensure it was aware of the Council’s latest financial position and to allow the opportunity to identify areas for further scrutiny.
At the start of the item, the Chair welcomed the Council’s new Section 151 Officer, Richard Ennis and invited him to introduce the report. During the introduction, the following points were noted: -
· Although the budget position reported at the end of month 3 was favourable, it was cautioned that it was still very early in the financial year which made forecasting more challenging.
· The report identified £10.6m worth of risks linked to the robustness of the savings identified for delivering during 2021-22.
· Further work was needed in Housing and Gateway as there was pressure on the budgets in these departments. It was acknowledged that it would be a challenge to reduce the budget variance in demand led services such as Housing and Gateway.
· Other areas of risk included funding for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and Special Educational Needs (SEN) transport, both of which were high demand services.
At the conclusion of the introduction, the Chair of the Committee suggested that, using the new scrutiny work programming process, the challenges highlighted should be taken away for further investigation to identify where Scrutiny could add value.
In response to a query about the level of savings required to be found from the budget for UASC, it was reported that the Government had agreed to make a one-off exceptional payment of £2.35m towards the cost of funding UASC support. Although this good news was welcomed, it was also recognised that a one-off payment would not resolve the long-term underfunding of UASC support by the Government.
It was suggested that consideration should be given to the presentation of data in future financial performance reports to ensure that they could be easily understood by the public. Further information about how budget overspends would be managed in demand led services was also requested for future reports. It was also suggested that there may be a role for the Scrutiny Sub-Committees to investigate in further detail how budgets were being managed in demand led services.
As it was noted that the report presented the financial performance as of June 2021, it was questioned whether work was underway to shorten the interval between the month end and producing the monitoring reports. It was advised that there was an aim to lessen the timespan between month end and reporting, but in doing so it was important to ensure that the accuracy and resilience of the data was not compromised. Confirmation that the Council was working towards shorter timeframes for reporting financial data was welcomed by the Committee.
At the conclusion of this item, the Chair thanked Cabinet Members and officers for their engagement with the Committee. It was also reiterated that the challenges highlighted during the introduction would be taken away for further investigation.